Enchiridion of Epictetus (Handbook)

The Three Stoic Ideals

Although Epictetus’s Handbook consists of only fifty-three points, it manages to convey clearly the main ideas of Stoicism and how to act based on those principles. Despite the fact that reading all of the points in the Handbook is important in order to get a precise picture of Stoicism, simply by looking at the way in which Epictetus talks about familial relations one can get a relatively good picture of what he wants from students of Stoicism. By looking at the passages in which familial relations are detailed, one can find guidelines to three of Epictetus’s most important Stoic ideals (which at times overlap): how important it is to live in accordance with nature, through self-knowledge (knowledge of one’s limits and finitude) and through self-control or authority over oneself.

First, two scenarios that Epictetus outlines in his Handbook tie into the important Stoic theme of how to live in accordance with nature. Epictetus writes: “Appropriate actions are in general measured by relationships. He is a father: that entails taking care of him, yielding to him in everything, putting up with him when he abuses you or strikes you.” (Epictetus 20) He goes on to say that even if the father is a bad father, the child should preserve...

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